Nellie Bly’s Experiences in Hungary

Daytona Daily News/February 18, 1915

(Below is a continuation of the Budapest letter sent by Miss Nellie Bly, special correspondent for the International News Service in Austria-Hungary.)

A buzz-saw would have met opposition with the meat in my goulash. I ordered sausage and pretended that it was better.

Out under the railed-in portico were the rest of our group with their baggage. Soldiers wounded and ill on their way to the hospitals, and soldiers well on their way to the battlefields, packed the second-class enclosure. A few peasants in sheepskins were our only civilians. Two officers marched up and down, in and around our crowd constantly. Gendarmes, with flouting feathers in their caps, guarded all entrances with naked bayonets.

One old, doubled-up peasant, a rude stick in one hand and in the other his baggage held in a knotted shawl, was halted by the officers. He took from his pocket his papers. The officers glanced at them and handed them back. My color scheme Hungarian newspaper man stood at my side.

“They asked him why he is not fighting,” he explained. “He says he has bad feet; he is crippled by rheumatism.”

They call loudly and angrily. Two gendarmes rushed to them. They grab the limping man by his collar and drag him through the door and out of our sight.

“They told the gendarme to take him to the general and put him on the firing line,” my friend explained.

A shrug of his shoulders put either a period or an interrogation point to his remarks.

See Few Babies

I see very few babies or children. In the semi-light of the lantern in the second-class waiting room I saw a crowd of thickly-skirted women. A gendarme at each door watched them constantly. The room was more heated by the many human beings than by the small wood stove in the corner. Each woman had her baggage beside her, tied up in shawls.

One woman kept rocking a bundle which lay on the floor beside her. I moved over to look. From the opening at the end of the quilt, which was tightly rolled and fastened together until it made a half-round shape, peeped the face of a sleeping babe. The mother spoke to me immediately and gave a side-long smile at the bundle she rocked. A woman came up to see what interested me. She began to question the mother. She was going to some kind friends. Her home was destroyed; her husband was somewhere fighting; she had nothing to eat; she had travelled three days; she was married two years; her baby was one month old.

No tears, no wailing, no complaint. These people can endure bravely.

The train was two hours late. In a mixture of baggage and people we stumbled on board in the darkness. Every place seemed filled. Loud were the complaints. The train started with all of us in the utmost confusion.

From a single compartment flashed an electric lamp and a voice in German bade me enter. The light full in my face blinded me. An outstretched hand pulled me into the seat. I could not see, but by the sounds I knew two men were lifting to the invisible racks above my head my baggage the porter had dropped in the aisle.

From the darkness a long way off, I heard George Schriner call:

“Miss Bly, are you all right?”

“Thank you, I am all right. And you?” I asked.

“All right, six of us in the end compartment,” was the answering reply.

Feeds a General

In faltering Americanish and limping German we talked. By the interrupted flashings of the electric pocket lamp, I saw two red stripes on the trousers of my one companion. That meant he was a general. I never saw his face. But as he turned the light often full in my face, he evidently will recognize me again. By the same light I saw only the face of the second man, a good-looking, pleasant face. I could not tell his rank.

The General said he was very hungry. I offered him crackers from my bag. He pulled it down and I took out a box of wafers.

We ate and talked. They asked why America did not resent English insults. I said I thought we were afraid of getting whipped by England and Japan.

They said they thought one or two months would force peace here because of inability of transporting supplies. They said the cold was making havoc among the soldiers.

An hour later we parted. They regretted leaving me alone in the dark. One gave me a box of matches and the other told me to lock my compartment door and showed me how to do it.

I obeyed. I unstrapped and crawled into my sleeping bag, lay down and went to sleep. Time means nothing under such conditions. I don’t know how long I slept, when a terrific banging upon my door and the loud voice of the guard told me I would have to seek another place, as a general must have my compartment. From out the darkness came the voice of a Hungarian journalist.

Defying An Officer

“Miss Bly! He wants you to get out to make a place for a general. Don’t you do it.”

“Don’t worry!” I called encouragingly. “Unless the general has his regiment with him, the order will not be enforced.”

I stood at the door of my compartment. The general clanked over his sword into the car, two baggage-laden servants behind him.

“Bitte, come in,” I said. We looked at each other in the dim light of the small lantern tied around the guard’s neck.

“I have too much baggage,” he said in German.

“Put your baggage in the passageway and you come in,” I answered.

He thanked me and said he would.

But the guard interrupted. If the general could forgive it, he had an empty second-class compartment. The general forgave him, accepted it, thanked me and departed. Again my slumbers were interrupted by the guard, who made me understand we must get out and change trains. No porter answered my call, so I pulled my bags out of the door and cast them desperately before me. I followed them. I saw none of my party, so I went in search of a porter. I found one rather intelligent fellow. He showed me his number on his cap, No.11. He asked if I were going further. I said to Budapest. He said the train left in one hour from another track.

I wondered what good a commander in charge of a party was anyway. I saw a dimly lighted room. It was bitter cold, so I entered. I could not go searching in the dark for my “group.” It was the usual half-lit room, containing a dozen tables surrounded by officers and soldiers.

Meets a Nurse

At one table was a young girl. On the front of her white wool cap was sewed a red cross. On her arm was the same emblem.

She saw me at once, raised from her seat, bowed, and kissed my hand.

I ordered by signs an apple and a glass of beer. My group began to appear, singly and in numbers. Our commander was not to be seen. When Mr. Herring wedged in at my table I asked him what that Red Cross girl was doing here. She looked like a story. He said she was stationed here. He recalled having seen her before.

I never regretted more my inability to speak.

I finally went to my Hungarian friend, whose voice had warned me not to give my compartment to the general.

“Won’t you talk to this Red Cross girl for me?”

He looked over and spoke to her.

Like turning an electric button, she began to buzz.

She rose to her feet and actually kissed my hand. She said she was connected with the field Red Cross. They had been following the line of battle. She saw a wounded soldier lying on the ground. She left the ambulance and went ahead. As she leaned over to bandage up his wounds she felt a stinging pain in her abdomen. As she fell to the ground she saw a soldier jump up from behind a bush and run.

We had a crowd around us now and pencils and note-books were busy.

She was going to Budapest to a Red Cross hospital. Meanwhile she would like to show us some drawings she had done. They did not awake any interest among the journalists or find any purchasers. So she wrapped them in their cover. Then she pulled a bag out of her blouse. From it she produced a magnificent handwrought silver bracelet and brooch.

She handed them to me.

“Where did she get them?” I asked my journalist friend.

Picked Up Jewelry

“She says she picked them. Give them back to her. I shall tell her to hide them. If they are seen, she may be misunderstood.”

She hid them in her breast. She kissed my hand again and we went out to our train.

I ran along like a lost dog, searching for Number 11 from first car to last, and as I was in danger of being left I scrambled into the last door. A shout and to my joy, Number 11 scrambled on behind me. Every compartment was crowded. The door of one was closed. I knocked. It opened. There stood my general. He recognized me at once.

“Come in, please,” he said in German.

“I have too much baggage,” I answered, as he had before answered my invitation.

But he would not listen. He called his servants and had his baggage rearranged so as to make room for mine. It was a double compartment. He pulled out the one side and begged me to lie down and rest. He had been to ______. He would leave the train an hour later, so he would not sleep.

He told me he had seen two American officers at S_____. He said the soldiers were in some places in Servia compelled to fight up to the thighs in water. He believed the cold would force all armies to cease warfare until spring.

At the end of the hour he departed. “Ships that pass in the night.” Three officers I had met and talked with. We had exchanged news and opinions. I had of one flash view of his face, but I could not say I would remember him any more than the two I had not seen. After he had gone I crawled into my sleeping bag and warm, if not comfortable, I slept.

(Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America,